• 30 June 1879
  •  Brooklyn, New York, USA

Walter Hampden


Walter Hampden was one of the great American stage actors and the only performer, aside from Maurice Evans, to play Hamlet three times on Broadway in the post-World War I-era. Born Walter Hampden Dougherty on June 30, 1879, in Brooklyn, New York, he learned his craft in London, where he made his debut as a professional actor in 1901 with the Frank Benson Stock Company. He spent six years apprenticing in England, where he was thoroughly trained as a classical actor. When he returned to the US in 1907, he toured with the great Russian actress Alla Nazimova in a presentation of the plays of Henrik Ibsen. Hampden played "Hamlet" on Broadway in 1918-1919, in 1925 (with Ethel Barrymore as his Ophelia at his own Hampden's Theatre), and in 1934. His greatest role was that of Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac," a part he first performed in 1923 and that he repeated four more times on the Great White Way. In 1925 he took over management of the Colonial Theatre, a vaudeville house on Upper Broadway, and renamed it Hampden's Theatre. After christening his house with his second Hamlet on October 10, 1925, he played there with his own company through 1930. Later, Hampden helped launch the American Repertory Theatre, playing Cardinal Wolsey in William Shakespeare's "Henry VIII." Hampden became revered as the grand old man of the American theater. He was president of the Players' Club for 27 years. His last distinguished role on Broadway was in Arthur Millers parable of McCarthyism, "The Crucible," capping a career that spanned a half-century. Walter Hampden died on June 11, 1955, just three weeks shy of his 76th birthday.